VATICAN CITY — The Roman Catholic Church will begin to include pets as potential candidates for sainthood, Vatican officials announced yesterday.
The announcement came as part of an inauguration ceremony for a newly renovated cemetery outside St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
“The [Catholic] Church has always recognized the value of animals in the lives of the faithful,” explained Vatican spokesperson, Cardinal di Gatto at the event, which attracted approximately 42 of Rome’s Roman Catholics. He cited the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who, according to legend, had the ability to communicate with animals.
According to a Vatican source who cannot be named because he hadn’t received proper blessing to speak to the press, Pope Benedict XVI has already approved verneration of several animals, and beatification of a wiener dog named Chloe who used to belong to a realtor in Canada.
Veneration and beatification are the first two steps in a three-step process toward sainthood. When the Church venerates an individual, it acknowledges that he or she has lead an exemplary life. Beatification means that the Church has declared that the person is now in heaven, in the presence of God. Canonization is the final stage, in which the person is declared to be a saint by the Church.
“The entire process [of canonization] can take decades, or even centuries,” explains saintologist Rev. Benito Cucciolo. “The candidate’s life is scrutinized. There has to be evidence of a miracle worked by [praying to] the potential saint. In the case of Chloe [the wiener dog], a number of people have claimed to have been healed of hangnails and acne.”
The notion of canonizing animals is not a new one, according to Cucciolo. In 1994, he says there was a move to canonize a cat named Puss who had died when he had his throat torn out in a catfight. “There was a question of Puss’ suitabilty for sainthood given the circumstances under which he died,” says Cucciolo. “But, we can expect some of these movements re-emerging in light the Holy Father’s official recognition of the possibility of canonization of animals.”
Yesterday’s announcement by the Vatican has already stirred controversy. Jewish groups have strongly objected to the reported beatification of Chloe, citing allegations that Chloe was a Holocaust denier.
“Objections to a given canonization are part of the process,” explains Cucciolo. “Still, we can’t deny someone sainthood just because they said something that might be considered by some to be antisemitic. If that were the case, we’d have to revamp our whole register of saints.”